'Daddy helper' makes frugality easier

Hodding Carter IV holds on to his jug of "daddy helper," otherwise known as mead.

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Hodding Carter: We crossed booze off the shopping list when we turned frugal. And at first, feeling high from our initial penny-pinching successes, I wasn't complaining....

Tess Vigeland: Hodding Carter has been blogging about his new frugal existence for Gourmet.com. Think family of six, 550 bucks a month to live on. That's after the mortgage payment. Here's his latest installment for us:

Carter: ... Now however, it's summer. And since we can't afford all those camps and clinics, our kids are home. All. Day. Long. Everywhere I turn, there's a kid: on my computer, on my cell phone, even on my toilet.

And although we're having a blast and each of them has said this is their favorite summer ever -- and why not, since they spend most of their days just being kids: jumping on the trampoline, fighting, building forts, fighting, swimming in the lake, fighting -- I often find myself longing for a glass of liquid daddy helper. And that's why I'm attempting to make mead: the mother of all booze.

Mead is so old that no one really knows when or where it began, only that its arrival probably accompanied the dawn of civilization. It was the first fermented beverage. Being such, one might assume any simpleton could make it: Combine honey with water at a ratio of one pound honey to one gallon water. Add juice and, voila, a month or more down the road, depending on how strong you want it, you've got golden alcohol.

Unless you try making it with an old, forgotten jug of blackstrap molasses and baker's yeast swirled together in random proportions, bottled in a musty five-gallon plastic water container bought days after 9/11. In that situation, you end up with burnt-sugar-tasting vinegar.

Hearing of my familiar, an acquaintance gave me a five-gallon glass carboy, a container specifically designed for making fermented beverages, and also a bottle of his very own Batch No. 11. He couldn't remember what he did to make it -- people add all sorts of things like herbs, fruit and secret ingredients to spice up their mead. But one sip erased all the aches and pains of being frugal. It was a heaven-sent elixir with the kick and sweetness of port, followed up with a strong but complex taste of, you guessed it, honey.

On my next trip to the liquidation grocery store, I found five pounds of Chinese honey at $1.76 a pound and was quickly brewing my very own Batch No. 2 atop my office desk.

It's a copacetic existence, our kids' summer recess and this salutary mead-making. Every time I find myself about to explode, I dash into the study to count out loud and wait for a bubble of CO2 to pass through the carboy's water lock. It used to take five seconds between bubbles of escaping mead gases and an equal amount of time for me to calm down.

As the mead's alcohol level has increased and the sugar's gotten eaten up, the bubbles have grown further and further apart. Coincidentally, as the kids have stayed indoors because of endless rain, it's also taken me longer and longer to quell my own uncool parent response.

Around the same time next month, though, I'll be done with counting: the kids will be back in school and the mead will be ready to drink. Who says being frugal doesn't have its rewards?

Vigeland: Hodding Carter is writing about his family's experience with extreme frugality for Gourmet.com.

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